Beginner Bonsai: Two questions to ask yourself

A chinese juniper bonsai tree set against a vivid blue background

If you’re a beginner bonsai enthusiast, these two simple questions will help you to decide where your interest lies and hopefully save you from some expensive mistakes!

At Beechfield Bonsai, we meet plenty of bonsai beginners who are just starting their bonsai journey and who want to experience bonsai in the real world. If you’re at this stage of the journey, there’s a lot to take on board and naturally you’ll have a lot of questions. We’re always happy to help with your queries but you may start to find it all a bit overwhelming.

The art of bonsai is most definitely a marathon and not a sprint. It’s an art that will stay with you throughout your life, expanding your knowledge and love of nature. But you don’t need to know everything about your new passion right now, and learning at the right pace will help to consolidate your knowledge.

So when I talk to people who are just beginning bonsai, I ask them two questions.

Two Questions to ask yourself

They’re simple questions and aren’t intended to trick you in any way. They will get you thinking now about where you want the art of bonsai to take you over the coming years.

You may have already asked yourself these questions but even if you haven’t, you’re likely to come to the answer at some point in the future. By considering them now, you’ll start to research your own individual answers, which will strengthen your knowledge and guide you on your own path of bonsai.

Sure, at some point you’ll need to understand the intricacies of feeding, pruning, wiring and so on. But there’s no need to overload yourself with all of this information at such an early point of your progression.

And don’t worry if you don’t know the answers to the questions immediately. It may be that the answers don’t exist for you at this point, but give yourself time to think and research, and they will come to you.

Bonsai trees on display at the RHS Malvern flowershow 2019

 

What type of tree do you like?

Your immediate answer to this may be “all of them”, and that’s a valid answer to the question. But let’s take some time to think about it a little deeper.

The answer I am usually looking for will be a single word: coniferous, deciduous, flowering, fruiting. Knowing your general preference will allow us to dig deeper and pin down the species that will suit your taste.

Also consider the conditions that the species needs in order to thrive, and whether you can provide those conditions. Putting the tree in an unsuitable location will cause it to deteriorate and eventually die. So this is probably the most important aspect of your research, and you may want to double check with the nursery or seller when you buy your tree.

While you’re researching species online, you’ll come across plenty of images of bonsai trees. And this will start to inform your preferences on aspects of bonsai such as styles and pots.

For instance, you’ll probably see that coniferous trees are usually evergreen and often potted in unglazed pots. On the other hand, fruiting trees are usually deciduous and generally presented in a glazed pot to complement the flowers or fruit of the tree.

All of these factors will eventually feed into your own style and interpretation of bonsai, which leads us to our second question.

A bonsai juniper tree displayed at RHS Malvern 2019

What size of bonsai trees do you prefer?

This question will start you on your own personal path of bonsai.

Bonsai trees are classified in Japan by their size, from the smallest mame size to large imperial sized trees. When you’re considering your answer to this second question, there are a number of factors that you need to consider apart from the visual aspect. For instance, how much space do you have? Are you able to move heavy trees around?

Sure, everyone likes the large specimen trees that you’ll see in bonsai nurseries and collections. But in practical terms, are you able to move these trees around and will you be able to cope with repotting such a large tree?

If these factors aren’t a problem for you, then developing and working on larger trees will not be an issue.

On the other hand, shohin sized trees could be perfect if you have a smaller space available. This classification of tree typically comes in at less than 200mm tall (8 inches) – after all, good things do come in small packages!

You can do your own research online to help you answer this question. Our article on bonsai size classification makes a good starting point to go out and find your preferred size of bonsai.

In Conclusion

These two simple questions are designed to lead the bonsai beginner towards the very basics of bonsai knowledge. The answers may come to you quickly and naturally, and if this happens you’ll be able to jump in and start buying your trees and bonsai material.

But don’t worry if it takes you a little longer to answer the questions. The research you’ll do to reach your own conclusions will strengthen your knowledge and love of your new hobby.

Taking time to answer these two questions now will hopefully help you to avoid expensive mistakes, and will also provide a gateway to the beautiful art of bonsai.